Rebuilding New Orleans

Date: Dec. 13, 2005
Location: Washington, DC

REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS -- (Extensions of Remarks - December 13, 2005)


Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Speaker, 106 days ago, the world watched as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States came crashing down on our Gulf Coast. I spent much of the last weekend in New Orleans, touring the affected areas and speaking with folks about the recovery efforts.

The effects of the hurricane and its aftermath are eerily similar to natural disasters that in recent years have befallen my home state of West Virginia--floods of the 100-year variety.

Displaced families. Businesses boarded up. A sense of despair and unease in the community. Helpless citizens looking for someone, anyone, to provide some guidance to a sound and quick recovery.

The damage done to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, in particular, is well documented. But so are the promises made to those residents who call New Orleans home. And those promises have so far gone unfulfilled.

Billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild New Orleans. First and foremost, the levee system, which failed New Orleans' residents in the aftermath of the hurricane, must be upgraded to protect from future 100-year storms. Some estimates put that cost at more than $32 billion--and many in Washington are balking at the price tag.

My question is this: Can't we afford America? We have spent more than $300 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet this Republican Congress doesn't have a concrete plan to rebuild New Orleans, or the budget blueprint to do it. We are investing billions of American taxpayer dollars for bridges, levees and infrastructure in Baghdad, yet we can't get a commitment from our leaders to rebuild the levees in New Orleans for Americans. We have enacted tax cut after tax cut--most recently a $95 billion cut for the wealthiest Americans--yet 78,000 American families displaced by the hurricane are still waiting for FEMA trailers in Louisiana.

And what about West Virginia? Parts of southern West Virginia are still recovering from the major floods of the past five years. Many families displaced by those floods have yet to be able to move back to their homes. And we are still unable to secure the necessary investment from the Corps of Engineers to prevent this kind of flood from ever happening again.

It is long past time to look inward and focus on the many issues confronting Americans in America. The flooding of New Orleans exposed more concerns than just the failure of the levee system. Investment in our schools, health care system, infrastructure and homeland security needs to be high on our list of priorities going forward.

This Administration and this Congress have decisions to make. For the sake of all of us who have been--and will be again--affected by severe flooding, it is my sincere hope that they choose to stand with the American people and invest in the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.